Are more people breaking lockdown?




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Life in the UK has been transformed since restrictions were brought in to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The restrictions, which have affected all aspects of society, will be reviewed this week and the government has promised to lay out a “comprehensive plan” to restart the economy, reopen schools and help people travel to work.

But how has life changed over the past six weeks?

1) Some have returned to their cars

While other transport use has consistently stayed down, there has been a slight uptick on the number of vehicles on the road.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries has said she wants to ”reinforce” how important it is that people carry on reducing their travelling.

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Police have warned of speeders ”using the quieter roads as their own personal racetrack” after a motorist drove at 115mph on a 40mph road.

Meanwhile, trips to supermarkets and workplaces are still down significantly compared with the start of the year, according to Google data.

However, visits to parks have almost returned to normal levels, after dropping by more than 50% in the first few weeks of lockdown.

Several parks, including Brockwell Park in South London, briefly closed at the start of April amid social distancing concerns. But Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick has since said that people “need parks” and councils must keep them open.

It also appears slightly more people are travelling to their workplaces, which may be a factor behind the higher number of cars on the road.

2) The UK is ‘past the peak’ of the disease

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK is “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak, but has stressed the country must not “risk a second spike”.

His comments may surprise some, given the jump in deaths during the last week of April, the BBC’s Health Correspondent Nick Triggle says.

But those figures have been inflated by the retrospective inclusion of deaths in the community, mainly care homes, which date back to March.

By tracking hospital deaths, which are a sign of transmission in the general population, there is strong evidence that the UK hit the peak on 8 April.

Mr Johnson says the UK must keep the R rate – the number of people to which one infected person will pass the virus – below one in order to avoid a second peak

3) The health service went digital

The way people are using the health service is changing.

Only about 14% of doctor’s appointments were carried out over phone or video link in the year to February 2020.

But that has all changed, with the number of phone appointments doubling in March as the public became conscious of the need for social distancing.

The Royal College of GPs has said most people were “pretty happy” with phone appointments. But charity Age UK has urged doctors not to drop home visits and to “proactively” seek out vulnerable patients.

At the same time, the number of people attending A&E dropped while the numbers of calls made to 111 – the NHS hotline – reached record highs.

But the health service says it is vital that people continue to seek medical help if they need it.

“If you do have symptoms of stroke, chest pain and think it might be a heart attack, a sick child who is deteriorating, if you are a pregnant woman and the baby is not moving as much as it used to – it is important you don’t delay,” says NHS England’s medical director Stephen Powis.

4) Millions have turned to the government’s furlough scheme

Six weeks ago, many people would have never heard of furlough.

But millions now rely on the scheme, which pays up to 80% of the wages of staff at businesses struggling to operate under coronavirus restrictions.

About 185,000 firms applied for the scheme on 20 April, the day it went live. Those claims alone covered 1.3 million workers and cost the Treasury an estimated £1.5bn.

Many more have applied since then, with two thirds of businesses polled by the Office for National Statistics reporting they have furloughed at least part of their workforce.

One in four of firms still trading said their turnover had fallen by at least 50% since the lockdown.

At the same time, applications for universal credit have soared on this time last year.

About three quarters of a million claims were made in the first week of lockdown, over 20 times as many as would apply in an average week.

While there is still considerable pressure on the benefits system, the figures show that the number of claims is now starting to come down, having peaked in the first week of lockdown.

5) Most think normal life is a long way off

The majority of the public think normal life won’t resume for at least four months, with about 40% saying they think it will take over six months for this to happen, according to the ONS.

And the lockdown is having a significant effect on the way people live, with four in 10 saying it had affected their travel plans and their wellbeing, while one in five said it had affected their relationships.

6) Frozen food and alcohol are lockdown bestsellers

It appears that many people were turning to baking and drinking after a month in lockdown.

Half of the 10 products seeing the biggest growth in the week to April 25 were related to home baking, with sales of fresh dough and pastry rising by 110% on the same time a year earlier.

Meanwhile, sales of stout were up 83% and cider up 63%, with overall sales of alcohol rising by more than a third.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sales of frozen and long lasting foods have also risen significantly on a year ago, according to the figures from consultancy Neilsen.

In the week before the restrictions started, supermarket sales were 43% higher than the same time last year, as many rushed to stock up amid fear of shortages.

But average sales fell in the first fortnight of lockdown, before going back up again.

“When the country was told not to travel people stopped shopping,” says Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s head of retailer and business insight. “They had already bought a lot of stuff, and their larders and freezers were full.”

Are more people breaking lockdown?

7) Better air quality

Air pollution levels in the UK have dropped significantly in the weeks since the country went into lockdown.

The level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has fallen across the UK, with the daily average down by about 50% on the same period last year.

NO2, released from car exhausts, is a serious air pollutant.

Some cities have seen levels fall by more than 60%, including Brighton and Portsmouth, according to BBC analysis of Defra statistics.

8) Crime is down but anti-social behaviour is up

In England and Wales, crime fell by 28% in the four weeks to 12 April, compared to the same time last year. Home burglary, for example, was down by more than a third, as people spent far more time indoors.

However, incidents of anti-social behaviour rose by 59%.

The increase was likely to be linked to breaches of lockdown measures, with more than 3,200 fines issued in England, the National Police Chiefs’ Council said.

Meanwhile, the National Domestic Abuse helpline saw a 25% increase in calls in the first two weeks of lockdown, rising to 49% after three weeks, the charity Refuge says.

It is now receiving hundreds of extra calls for help every week.

This piece was first published on 13 April and has been updated to include the latest statistics.

Additional reporting by Joel Massey, Jake Horton and Nicholas Barrett.



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